Jonathan Steingraber – Systemically Building a Brokerage Model

Show Notes

Welcome to the agents who crush it in real estate podcast where you’ll hear the good, the bad and the ugly of how real estate agents overcame challenges and grew their business. Check out the Episode Notes at CrushItinRE.com/podcast. Here’s your host, Anthony Lamacchia.

Anthony Lamacchia: Hey everybody. I’m excited to be here with an old friend, Mr. Jonathan Steingraber and he is down in New Jersey. Hello, sir.

Jonathan Steingraber: What’s up, Anthony? Thanks for having me on.

Anthony: Hey, I’m excited to have you here with us and I want to talk to you. I told you before we came on, I have been interviewing a lot of agents and I said, “I need to bring some owners in.” You’re the first one that we chose, that Lauren and I chose to have on, because you’ve been through the whole journey. You’re a broker-owner now, a company with 300 agents, and your wife has a very powerful team, and you guys are famous now. I mean, you were just on the Real Housewives for a handful of episodes.

Jonathan: A great way to get famous, right? I don’t think we’re famous, but maybe in New Jersey and parts of the Northeast.

Anthony: That’s funny. Well, listen, my friend, I’m happy to have you on. Why don’t you tell our audience where you are, what market you’re in. Give us a quick lowdown, when you started in the business. Give us a two-minute elevator speech.

Jonathan: Sure. I started the business back in ’06. My wife started; I believe in ’05. We met later on in our careers. She actually founded this company called Signature Realty back in ’09. We’ve been doing business together for about 5 to 6 years now. Back when we met, we partnered up, but I started out with rentals. I was a bartender in downtown Manhattan, and I saw people that would come into the bar in downtown Manhattan and the people that would be well off either did stocks or real estate. I said stocks are a little volatile for my taste. I didn’t really know anything about them. I was really young, and I said let me do real estate. I literally walked into a Barnes and Noble and started reading some books on real estate.

One of the things that it said is get your real estate license. I started doing $900 rentals just so I could replace my income. I primarily got started in the business for investing purposes. I flipped my first house and then I quit my bartending job and fast forward I met Michelle. I did some speaking around the country and in Canada on real estate investing. Mostly tax education, real estate investing, and a couple of those topics around some personal development as well. That training experience that I’ve gotten really helped us grow the real estate brokerage. Right now, we just passed the 300 agents, we’re at 301 and we’re in the New Jersey market. We do all of New Jersey, all the way from South Jersey, all the way up to North Jersey, right close to New York. We focus mostly on residential; we do a little commercial.

Anthony: That’s fantastic. It’s funny, I just had someone on in New Jersey, an agent who’s on a team up there. He was a barber and now he’s a successful agent on a team. I said I find that people that were barbers, waitresses or bartenders, kick ass this business because they have the people skills and that’s half the battle in this business. As you know, you’ve helped people with personal development. I know you’re also involved in flipping and in real estate investing. You and I have had some conversations about that, but let’s stick with the journeys for now. You did rentals, then you must have at some point got into sales, and then tell me the story. She started the company, you were investing in. Walk us through that a little bit.

Jonathan: Actually, because of getting into the real estate investing field, I started doing a lot of short sales and REOs kind of coincidentally. It just happened because of that time period. I started in ’06 and then everything crashed. We started doing short sales and helping people out of foreclosure and that’s how I became a realtor. I mean, I hated it. I hated it. I mean, I quit being an REO agent and I’ll tell you a quick story.

I was in an REO, it was nine o’clock at night. The Asset Management Company called me after we let them know that this house got broken into. They said, “If you don’t go lock up this house and secure it tonight, we’re taking your entire account away from you.” I have like 40 listings at that point. As an REO agent, you work really hard and you put utilities in your name, you do cash for keys, you do the whole bit. I didn’t want to lose my account, right? I went to this house and long story short, I got knocked out by this guy that was in the house.

Anthony: What?

Jonathan: Ram sacked me into the door, and I hit my head against the wall and came down. I was out for a second and that day I was like, this is not worth it. I have to do something better than this. That’s when I decided to shift away from doing the foreclosures and things like that to doing something bigger. That’s how that all started as an agent. It just happened with the short sales. Then fast-forwarding, I did some retail business, did a lot of investments, then my wife is really on the retail side.

My wife is one of the top agents in the state and for her team last year, she was the number one. According to Real Trends, she sold 300 and something houses. She’s a big team– well, not a big team. 7 members on her team, so under 10. Then we decided to come together and say, let’s do this, let’s grow the company. Let’s give agents what we feel there’s a need for here, and you’ll be the producing broker and I’ll be the operations person. I’ll be the trainer; I’ll be the developer. That’s what we’ve done. It’s been really good.

Anthony: Well, good for you. I remember my REO days and it’s funny, our personalities are so similar. I got out of it as well. I remember in the winter of 2010, I was like, all right, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m flying to Dallas all the time, kissing ass to people in other states. It’s one thing if it’s a relocation business where it’s continuous and ongoing, but REO is like a splash in the pan. I started getting tired of it. We got rid of a bunch of accounts and then the last account that we kept which was pretty good, fired us. We were like, alright, we’re done. This is over.

We did a lot of short sales, a lot of regular retail sales, and we just grew it from there. But good for you guys coming together and focusing on what you’re best at. I know you said your wife’s team did over 300 sales. A lot of those were over $ 1 million, $2 million, a lot of high-end she does, right?

Jonathan: Yes, she does a lot of luxury listings, and she didn’t start out that way. She was doing condos and her first year, she was a secretary for this independent brokerage. Then she started opening up the commission checks and depositing them. She said, “What am I doing making $7 an hour?” She would see these agents sitting around. She was like, “Wait a second. If they can do it, I can do it.” That’s how she got started in the business. I got started through investing. She got started because she was a secretary at a real estate office. She was also in hospitality; she’s bartended for a little bit. It’s funny that you said that before.

Anthony: I’m telling you. I see it all the time with agents, and it really comes down to– I mean, you know. You’re helping train people, heck, you guys have done our training. If you get someone that can talk, it’s three-quarters of the battle in this business. When I say talk, I don’t mean bullshit people, but just be personable, be likable, be caring. You obviously have all those traits as does your wife, and then you bring agents in, and you just teach them to do it and teach them the game.

Jonathan: Yes, the journey, it wasn’t easy as you know. You start out small and you can’t really be small. You get in the middle and you’re like, you can’t really be in the middle, right? Because you’re competing and it just doesn’t make sense. We actually sought out coaches and trainers like yourself. We hired you because I was like, all right, “Anthony has grown his company, how do we model other people?” Tony Robbins talks about modeling. Obviously, you put your own twist on it, but I learned a lot from you.

I was quite honestly inspired by all your energy and all the things that you’ve been doing, and you still see it. I was like, I hope Anthony Lamacchia never comes into New Jersey because if he does, I’m going to have to really step up my game. I was like, I’m going to have to join them, we’re going to have to do it together because I would never want to be in a market where Anthony Lamacchia is because, his energy. You’re just non-stop and you’re going and going and going, but it’s inspiring. It’s helped me take my business to a new level, along with a couple of other things that I’ve done as well.

Anthony: You worked with John, Jeff Black as well, and John helped you, he helped me as well. John helped me a lot with learning the recruiting game and understanding the recruiting game and understanding what’s in the agents’ heads. Because I mastered the art of knowing what buyers and sellers are thinking and how to convert them. John mastered the art of recruiting, and now he just duplicates and teaches people. You were a great student of that. I mean, when you and I met, you had, I distinctly remember about 80 agents and now you’ve got 300 and that wasn’t that long ago. It’s not like we’ve known each other forever. Three years ago, maybe?

Jonathan: Well, since January, we recruited 150 agents this year. We went from 150 to doubling from the end of the year to now. We’re growing at a pretty fast pace. We’re not doing all the things that we should be doing. We have a lot of work to do from our perspective of recruiting. We really just focus on agents more than anything.

Announcer: Let take a quick break and hear from Dave Karoly the Master of objection handling as he teaches you how to overcome buyer and seller concerns.

Dave: All right. Today we’re going to talk about what to do when a buyer tells you on the phone that they’re no longer interested in that original property that they reached out on. Again, we all know that’s true. It’s probably less than 1% of people actually buy the original home they inquired on, but when somebody tells you that, first and foremost, tell them you’d be happy to show them. At least it gives you the opportunity to get yourself in front of them but go a little deeper.

Say, “I’d be happy to show you that house, but let me ask, what is it that draws you to that one so much? There’s a lot of other homes in that neighborhood. What’s it about that particular home?” If grandma lives across the street or they’ve been dying to get in that particular neighborhood for a while, again, show them that property. But a great question you can ask folks is, “I know of a couple of other similar homes in that neighborhood. If any are potentially a better value, would you like to see them at the same time?” Boom.

Instead of showing them just one property, now you have the opportunity to show them a few properties and it’ll be with them even a little bit longer, but that’s really a good way to flush it out. “Mr. Buyer, if that identical home came on the market two streets over for $20,000 less, would you want to know about it?” It’s really going to guide you to their motivation and whether they truly do just want that home or whether they’re just, it’s one of their defense mechanisms.

Announcer: Thanks, Dave. Now let’s get back to the show.

Anthony: That’s right. Now talk about some of the– I mean, heck, none of us are doing everything we should be doing That’s running a business. You’re always working on solving things but talk to us about some problems along the way with building the brokerage, because what you said is very accurate and I’ve said this to friends.

If you are running a brokerage model, you can’t be small unless you’re doing it like a team. You can’t run a true brokerage model and be profitable if you’re small. You’ve got to scale. I want you to talk about some of those things along the way. Now you said you seeked out trainers and I appreciate the credit, but what other things operationally or internally did you realize like, “This is a problem. I got to make a change. I got to do something different.”

Jonathan: I think number one is setting up that foundation and we continually build on our foundation to be able to scale, to provide the support and the training. We’re really, we do support from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday through Friday, and then Saturday and Sundays, we have a limited schedule as well. That’s support, I thought was always important, but I think if I could share some things that I really pivoted and said, “All right, this helped me,” is my daily huddles internally.

We do a daily huddle every day at 10:00 AM. We just, right before this call, we did one. That has helped us tremendously stay in communication and having a cadence of, “Hey, what’s our annual goal? What are our quarterly goals? What are our monthly goals.”? Then from our monthly goals, we basically set up what our weekly goals are and then daily we say, okay, what are we going to do today? We don’t have our own software; we use a management system called click up.com.

It’s very inexpensive. It’s really great for managing this whole process and other to-dos and tasks. That’s what we’ve used and that’s helped a lot just being in communication, setting those goals and then doing weekly training. We do two weekly trainings for our agents, and we do four open virtual office hours. That framework, that structure, that organization of everything has allowed us to stay lean, where we don’t have a ton of employees, but at the same time we’re able to support the agents in a pretty big way.

Anthony: How many employees do you have, Jonathan?

Jonathan: Including me, we have four.

Anthony: Wow, that’s a very low amount considering that many agents, but it sounds like you guys are very efficient, and you’ve gotten it to work for your model and clearly, you’re doing something right because you’ve got all these people coming over.

Jonathan: Yes, it works. Should I have probably a few more people on staff? 100%. It should probably be double that right now. Everybody knows what we’re trying to build and everybody– I’m not big on hiring first, growing second, which some people are. Financially I never wanted to put myself in that position especially now that we’re in an uncertain market in my opinion. We said, let’s grow and then let’s hire. Right now, we’re hiring people and it’s going to grow. It’s not like– that ratio is not accurate.

Anthony: Well, and yes, I agree it’s a low ratio, but you’re getting it to work, and I know how hard you work and how dedicated you are to the agents and as far as I’m concerned, they’re lucky to have you as their broker, from what I can see, and you and I have been in touch. I wanted to tell you one time, and this goes to show the impact that people have on people. One time at like nine o’clock at night, you texted me randomly. You’re like, “Hey, dude, love all you’re doing. You inspire me, keep at it.” That little text made me like, that’s nice and it felt good.

It’s an example, of how staying in touch with peers, staying in touch with friends, whether they’re near or far is good for friendships, but it’s good for business too. Look at this interview we’re doing. You stay top of mind with me, and I think I’ve stayed top of mind with you and that stuff is necessary as you’re growing.

It’s important to be staying in touch with people. You got that system, you put in place, you do a daily huddle. you said you’re doing two trainings a week and one thing that I picked up on is you have set hours of support for the agents, which I think that’s interesting because ours, I get a little concerned about some people on the staff side. There are nine o’clock on a Saturday night answering questions. Oftentimes, and I don’t want to offend new agents because we both love them, but we were new once, but oftentimes what they think it is an emergency is not an emergency.

Jonathan: We tell our agents on our Monday meetings, “Hey guys, this is our times. If you’re contacting us after that time, it’s totally fine. Just don’t expect a response until the next morning because attorneys aren’t working at nine o’clock at night.” We’ve gotten texts– not texts because we do everything on our website through a live chat. That’s where all of our support goes. You’re not allowed to call us. You’re not allowed to text us, and you’re not allowed to email us.

Everything is through the website and the reason for that, Anthony, and we could talk about this outside of this, because this goes into the infrastructure of what we do, but we have what’s called a help center, and a lot of questions we’ve already developed videos for and say, here’s the video. You can literally tap a couple buttons and then boom; it goes right to a video or an article that we’ve already created on all the frequently asked questions.

Anthony: Yes. Well, and what you’re doing there is forcing their hand to go get the information. We have something called knowledge where all these articles are and videos and answers. Sometimes, more than sometimes you get tough. “No, it’s in knowledge, go look, go look.” You’re forcing them to do it and training them right from the beginning. Like I said, they’re lucky to have you doing that. That’s interesting so, okay. You’re at 300 agents. You guys are going to be more than doubling your commissions this year. You’re going to be over $10 million in commissions this year.

Jonathan: Yes. Right now, we’re on track to do $10.5 million, which is, I guess it’s okay. For having that many agents, it’s not really that good, but as you know, there’s a lead time as agents come in, especially if they’re newer, to do some business. We’re happy with it. I think it’s going pretty well. We have a lot of work to do, like I said, but the support side is good and that’s the competitive advantage that I think we have in our market and I’m sure that you have in your market, because I could tell all the support and trainings that you guys do. Also, you’ve already taken the time to work on the business. We’ve used your trainings before, and our agents love it because it’s not always the new shiny object.

It’s all the fundamentals to build your foundation that are going to be the needle movers and that’s what I’ve noticed when our agents have done your training, is that they were like, “Wow, this works like right away. I get off the training and then 10 minutes later, I’m doing what Anthony said on my phone call and boom, it’s working.” That’s key and as a leader, that’s one thing that’s always tough. Being a trainer, like, not giving people the minimum dose. If you give people an hour and a half training, they’re not going to watch it. You got to break it down into small pieces and that’s something that I learned from you, which is great.

Anthony: Well, thank you for saying that. I appreciate it and we always enjoy working with your agents very much. Tell me a little bit about the flipping business. Are you still doing it? Are you still buying and flipping properties investments, or did you back off on it?

Jonathan: Yes. It’s a tough market for inventory overall, especially for, I think investors, but sales are opening back up. At any given time, I don’t do a lot. I focus more on the brokerage now because that’s my highest and best use and I’m passionate about it. But yes, we do about 10 or 15 flips. I’m getting more into the commercial side of the business and buying and holding more properties. That’s really exciting.

Anthony: Good for you. Real estate is a good place to be. When the pandemic hit last year, I put a little bit of money in different areas of the market and didn’t do that well with it because I was a little too fast to get in. I look back and I’m like, I just stick with real estate. That’s what I know. That’s what I’m good at and that’s my jam, but good for you. Now, what’s the goals moving forward with brokerage?

Jonathan: We don’t really share our goals publicly, but obviously growth and just continuing to work on our company. We definitely want to grow and scale, but my most important metric KPI, which I think every broker-owner should have, is retention. I learned that from either you or John Cheplak. That your metric on recruiting, you should always be recruiting more than you’re losing, of course, but that is a really good indicator of how you’re doing as a broker and that’s what we focused on.

Anthony: You’re holding yourself accountable by doing that, because I see these other brokerages paying people to stay, paying people to join, but they do nothing for them. I’m like when you do that, you’re going to get people that are just desperate for a quick check or that are just using you.

Jonathan: Like the House of Cards.

Anthony: Yes, I don’t want that. We want people to genuinely want to grow their business and I know you guys share the same traits. You know the audience is wondering how the hell did you guys end up on The Real Housewives? Give me the 60 second version of that because they’re going to wonder.

Jonathan: How did we get on the Housewives of New Jersey? It’s funny that you asked that question. It happened in a crazy way. My buddy Lenny was doing a live event with Joe Gorga. I put on a lot of live events, and I have the biggest real estate investment club in New Jersey. Lenny and I had a meeting in his office in Somerset and Joe Gorga was actually there. Anyway, Lenny was like, “Hey, we’re doing a live event. Can you help us, do it?” I said, “Yes, sure.” I started giving them advice or whatever.

Then Joe was like, “I want you to be part of our event and partner with us.” I said, “Okay, no problem, but it has to be worth it for me.” What are we talking about? What are the sales? What are you trying to do? Long story short, we did a Grow with Gorga event together. I planned the whole thing; I sold a bunch of vendor memberships. We basically did the whole event for them and did the whole agenda, managed all the speakers. Basically, revamped everything that we’re doing and threw everything out that they were doing, because it wasn’t good, because they just didn’t have the experience and it was a fairly successful event.

For a first event, you expect to lose money or breakeven, this one actually made like, I don’t know, $39,000 or something like that. Our deal was to split it one third each. Anyway, I never got that money and that was actually highlighted on the TV show. Michelle listed Joe Gorga’s sister’s house, Teresa. I don’t know how that happened, but they wanted to film that Michelle was listing Teresa’s house because it’s a big part of her life. Listing the house that she grew up in and was married– or not grew up in but raised her kids in and was married in and all that stuff.

Long story short, they started shooting, and one time Michelle was invited to a dinner party, and they said, “Oh, what do you think about Melissa and Joe?” Michelle just mentioned like, “Well, we don’t really talk to them because Joe owes my husband money and he never paid him.” Forget it. From there, they’re like, all right we’re going to keep filming this because it’s drama. That’s what ended up happening. It was strictly real estate and events and then it ended up that they wanted to film parts of that. They actually filmed Grow with Gorga event too.

Anthony: That’s funny.

Jonathan: It’s all good. I don’t really care. To me, if you don’t pay somebody a little bit of money on something, to me that shows the character, and it’s a cheap way to not have to do anything else with that person, if that’s the way that they’re going to be. That’s what they made the whole show about, which was crazy.

Anthony: Which you didn’t think was going to happen.

Jonathan: It’s not a big deal, but they made it a big deal because they don’t have any storylines and that was a good storyline for them.

Anthony: Of course. That’s funny. Thank you for sharing. Listen, I’m thrilled to have you on. How can people get in touch with you or follow you on Instagram or wherever else?

Jonathan: Sure. I do a lot of Instagram. I say a lot, but I should do a better. Steingraber Jon. I know it’s tough, but it’s Steingraber. My last name J-O-N on Instagram. If you’re in the Jersey market, and you want to check out our company, it’s signaturerealtynj.com.

Anthony: Awesome, my friend thanks very much for coming on. I appreciate it. We’ll be talking again soon.

Jonathan: Awesome. Thank you, Anthony.

Anthony: Thank you.

Jonathan: Bye-bye.

Thanks for joining us on the Agents Who Crush It In Real Estate podcast. We hope you’ve learned some valuable takeaways. Be sure to take action and grow your business. You can check out the Episode Notes and more content from the show at CrushitinRE.com/podcast. And if you’d like this episode, and you’d like to hear more stories, please share with others, post on social media or leave a rating or review. To catch all the latest from Anthony you can follow him on Instagram at Crush It In Real Estate on Facebook and YouTube. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.